Mikko Rantanen was one of the 2015 draft-eligible prospects who looked like he could be NHL-ready by the start of the 2015-2016 campaign, so it’s hardly a surprise to see him sign his entry-level deal with the Colorado Avalanche this week.
The 18 year old native of Nousiainen, Finland served as the alternate captain for his club last season — impressive enough for anyone, but even more impressive for a teenager playing in Finland’s top tier elite league last year. He finished a fifty-six game campaign with nine goals and twenty-eight points, coming in second in scoring behind 27-year old Ryan Lasch and taking a break mid-season to appear with Finland’s U20 team at the World Junior Championships.
The left shooting right wing is already big enough to be considered an intimidating force on the ice — the tenth overall draft pick stands at 6 foot 4 and 211 lbs — but he’s also got poise, speed, and a well-placed shot to give him an all-around game. He’s got a unique two-way game to supplement a power forward build, but he’s able to provide plenty of physicality and a decent power play presence as well — for Colorado, the Finnish forward should be a game-changer down the line.
The question, of course, is whether he’s going to be an immediate impact at the NHL level or not. There’s still the possibility that Rantanen will return to Finland next year, giving him the option to continue developing his explosive skating and special teams prowess.
During the pre-development camp interviews, Rantanen made it clear that he wants to see North American ice in a regulation game sooner rather than later. There’s a chance his determination to play here in the United States as soon as possible influenced his inking of an entry level deal now, which gives him the opportunity to either play NHL or AHL hockey as soon as opening night. Worst case, the 18 year old forward can start in Finland and move over mid-season — the practice has become more common for NHL teams, and it clearly helped in the case of Willie Nylander last night. The Avalanche have introduced nearly all of their first round picks to the lineup in their draft-plus one years lately — so when Patrick Roy suggests that the AHL may be Rantanen’s first stop, that should hold some weight. The head coach is a fan of early player integration, and this year likely won’t be any different.